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Cardinals pre-camp preview: DBs have new and old faces

From left to right, Cardinals CB Robert Alford, rookie DB Byron Murphy and S Budda Baker. (Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals report to duty on July 24 and open 2019 training camp with their first practice the following day. To preview the storylines heading into head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s first year on the job, let’s take a look at the roster by position groups.

First up are the defensive backs.


Projected starters

CB: Patrick Peterson (suspended first six games)

SS: D.J. Swearinger

FS: Budda Baker

CB: Robert Alford

Nickel: Tramaine Brock Sr. / Byron Murphy

Depth

CB: Brandon Williams, Chris Jones, Deatrick Nichols, Nate Brooks

Safety: Deionte Thompson, Josh Shaw, Rudy Ford, Jalen Thompson, Tyler Sigler, Jonathan Owens

Biggest storyline

It was always going to be about Robert Alford — well, Robert Alford next to Patrick Peterson.

Even before Peterson earned a six-game suspension for PED use, Arizona showed a commitment to ending their long-winding search for a second cornerback, signing Alford to a three-year deal that could reach a reported $24 million. Alford, who has gotten to know Peterson through former Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, struggled last year with Atlanta, fighting through a nagging ankle injury to play in 15 games.

He recorded 11 passes defensed and 49 tackles but for the first time in his six-year career didn’t record an interception.

Alford said in April he is healthy. With Peterson out to begin the season, it’s on him to take on the role of top corner. And to perform.

If he survives decently enough through six games, the challenge arguably gets more difficult when Peterson returns.

“I’m eager at the end of the day,” Alford said. “I’m going to prepare each and every day to go out there and get it. Coaches said they needed picks each and every game and I’m looking to get that … knowing they’re not going to be throwing to Pat, they’re going to throw it the other way.”

X-factor

Rookie second-round pick Byron Murphy was viewed by some as a top-15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Arizona led off the second round by selecting the Washington defensive back and piled on the school-work early in camp. The Cardinals had Murphy learn everything from corner to nickel to safety, then reduced his workload later on, allowing him to gain confidence on the field. His development is key, in any case.

“Just like a young quarterback, a young corner takes time,” Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said of Murphy. “If you don’t raise them right, they’re going to have some hard downs early and you can lose them early.

Arizona released veteran corner David Amerson this summer, putting the pressure on Murphy and veteran Tramaine Brock Sr. to produce, no matter which one is the starting corner to open the year with Peterson sidelined and which one is in the slot.

Brock, 30, has a lot to prove as well. His career was derailed by a June 2017 domestic violence charge that was eventually thrown out of court, and he’s since bounced between the Vikings and Broncos the past two years after he’d become a mainstay with the 49ers during his first seven NFL seasons (2010-16).

Under the radar

— Nobody’s talking about the Cardinals’ two starting safeties because they’re familiar faces, but it remains to be seen how the backend looks after Arizona moved on from Tre Boston and Antoine Bethea a year ago. It’s just that swaggy, hard-hitting strong safety D.J. Swearinger hasn’t played for Arizona for a few years and third-year pro Budda Baker is adding youth to free safety after moving over from nickel corner.

— The are certainly concerns about the team’s defensive back depth. At corner, there aren’t any proven players after Brock unless you consider Brandon Williams’ few games of experience a comfortable bet. At safety, who steps in if injuries hit? Fifth-round pick Deionte Thompson and NFL vet Josh Shaw might be next up. And can supplementary draft pick Jalen Thompson play catchup to put himself in the conversation just weeks after he decided to head to the NFL rather than finish his run at Washington State? He could also potentially play nickel after playing the majority of his snaps in the slot at WSU last year.

He said it

“Ideally what you would like to be able to do is you want guys to actually try to throw the ball to Patrick Peterson,” said defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, who followed Joseph from Denver. “In my mind, I’m saying that’s what I would like to see happen. I would like to see more balls thrown to him so we can find out how good he really is. I would like to see teams try it.”

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